Sunday, May 23, 2004

Last Sunday was the last stage of the three-race Backyard Burn Trail Running Series, produced by EX2 Adventures. This series and others like it have been around for years, and I finally risked my life — and ankles — to participate in the last two races.

The appeal was that the second in the series April25 was at Wakefield Park. For those of you who have never run the trails from the park around Lake Accotink and back, you don’t know what you are missing. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you because then the trails will be as crowded as the Beltway at rush hour.

I love training through this beautifully wooded area. An out-and-back run is nearly 10 miles, and it is shaded and much cooler in the summer without the sun beating down on you. Plus, the surface is much softer than pavement.

So when I saw the venue on the series schedule, I figured I would be racing along on my typical rolling course with a bunch of people, and it would be just like a long, hard workout.

I also figured that because I am primarily an 800-meter runner now, there was no pressure to do particularly well at the 10-mile distance. The goal wasn’t winning; it was getting in the work on a Sunday morning.

First observation: These people are not your typical road racers. Actually, I didn’t recognize a single person except Brendan Shapiro, who is a co-owner of the sponsoring Potomac River Running Co. I liked being around a totally different crowd than the same people I see week in and week out at the road races.

Second observation: Organizers of trail races don’t like the nice, smooth rolling trails. They like steep uphills and downhills with numerous river crossings and tons of roots, gravel, fallen trees and other nuisances to negotiate along the course.

Third observation: Some people run in shoes specifically designed for trail running. I ran in a pair of light training shoes. Apparently, it doesn’t make a bit of difference.

Fourth observation: Never take your eye off the trail. I looked at my watch briefly to estimate how many miles or minutes I had left to run, and the bridge of my nose had a brief but intimate encounter with a tree branch. Unfortunately, I did not hit it hard enough to warrant a nose job compliments of my medical insurance.

Fifth observation: I had a blast, and so, it seems, did everybody else. The third race was in the massive Prince William Forest with 145 participants, where Alex Hetherington, a 2:28 marathoner for Team Marine and frequent top Marine Corps Marathon finisher, used his advantage of training in that forest nearly every day to beat us all into the ground last weekend.

Yes, even an 800-meter runner can have fun at a 10-miler. And it was all the more satisfying that after I came home and cleaned up, I learned from the pages of the latest edition of Track & Field News that the greatest milers of all time gained tremendous strength through numerous hard 10-mile workouts.

Right on target — I will not comment on last week’s drug revelation by Kelli White, because she already admitted she cheated, shamed herself and the sport. So what more is left to say?

But it did make me chuckle when my blind runner friend, Joe Aukward, who has been trying for two decades to qualify for the Paralympics, told me that two people — a man and a woman — recently showed up at the front door of his Bethesda home to collect a urine sample to test him for drug use.

It’s tough enough to give a urine sample when you are a sighted person.

On the tube — The schedule for track and field on television this summer has been released. The Payton Jordan U.S. Open will air June1 from 9 to 10p.m. on ESPN2 with a rebroadcast July30 from 3 to 4a.m. on ESPN. The Oregon Track Classic airs June5 from 6 to 7p.m. on ESPN2 with a rebroadcast July31 from 3 to 4a.m. on ESPN. The Prefontaine Classic airs June19 from 9:30 to 11p.m. on ESPN2 with a rebroadcast July31 from 4 to 5:30a.m. on ESPN.

NBC will carry the U.S. Olympic trials in Sacramento, Calif., from July9 to 18.

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